Anti-Semitic graffiti twice scrawled at Carlmont High School alarmed students, parents, school officials and community members who believe the disrespectful behavior is unacceptable.
Students drew swastikas and a disparaging message in chalk at the Belmont campus on two separate occasions over the past few weeks, inviting a swell of frustration and concern from the school community.
“It’s kind of alarming,” said Cheryl Selman, a Belmont resident with two children enrolled in the school.
Those responsible for drawing the swastikas have been identified and punished accordingly, said Jim Lianides, superintendent of the Sequoia Union High School District. School officials have also held meetings to address issues raised by the community and distributed a notice read in classrooms promoting a dedication to cultural sensitivity.
“There were two instances of offensive graffiti directed at Jews written with chalk on the blacktop on campus,” said Lianides in an email. “The two students were identified by Carlmont staff and appropriate follow-up action was taken.”
He added the graffiti was especially disturbing, as the school works to assure all students feel included.
“Sadly, these two incidents occurred several days after the very successful Heritage Fair that Carlmont holds annually to celebrate the many cultures that make up its student body,” he said. “The Sequoia Union High School District embraces the diversity within our community and places a very high value on maintaining safe, supportive campuses.”
Selman credited the response of Carlmont Principal Ralph Crame in addressing the frustrations and fears raised by members of the school community.
“I think this is new to him, and I believe he is reaching out to people at the district level and I think that is the appropriate response,” she said. “He’s not an expert in this area … I think he now realizes he has to take action and now knows there are resources and I think he is making use of them. I think he should continue to do that and I feel reasonably confident that he will.”
Crame deferred all questions regarding the incidents to Lianides.
Paula Meier, a parent of a former student at the school, attended one of the community meetings and said many present were frustrated.
“This is not OK. How do you make sure they know this is not OK? Obviously, I may not agree with another Jew on the politics of the Middle East or whatever,” she said. “But what about respect for each other? Especially in this area where there is diversity.”
Meier’s friend Elizabeth Stone said she too was discomforted by anti-Semitism being expressed on a local high school campus.
“When I see this kind of thing in our community, I think it is alarming,” she said.
Selman said the issue has presented an opportunity to discuss with her children the challenging issues surrounding cultural and racial intolerance.
“How do you explain to a child why people dislike your group of people? Your ethnicity? It’s a very hard thing and they can’t wrap their head around it,” she said.
She added her children do not feel endangered while at school.
“I am not concerned for their safety. I haven’t heard of any kids feeling concerned for their physical safety,” she said. “They are concerned about what people think, for sure.”
Selman noted ignorant or bigoted behavior can be common among adolescents who may not entirely understand the harm brought by their actions. But she is afraid a degree of anti-Semitism has become more socially acceptable in the wake of the divisive rhetoric expressed by President Donald Trump.
“He explicitly has anti-Semitic supporters. It’s hard to see how that affects what kids in high school are exposed to,” she said. “But the alt-right seems much more louder now … it’s a different time. Kids are exposed much more because they can go online, and it’s out there and there is certainly more of it now.”
That the students are still in their formative years grants an opportunity for early intervention to teach them how harmful such prejudiced behavior can be, said Selman.
“They are not fully formed,” she said. “But that’s why we can influence them now and we can teach them.”
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